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The Google Assistant booth at the Las Vegas Convention Center

CES 2020: Google announces new privacy and scheduling features

Image credit: AFP via Getty Images, Google

Google has used its appearance at CES 2020 to announce new capabilities to its voice assistant, including various improvements to the way it handles privacy.

With CES 2020 well underway, Google has used it as an opportunity to pledge its “continuing commitment to privacy”.

One of the Google Assistant’s new privacy features will allow users to delete a record of the most recent command by saying, “Hey Google, that wasn’t for you”, allowing users to delete voice records immediately if someone else starts a separate conversation in the background, or if the user decides that what was said should not be shared.

Users can also ask “Hey Google, are you saving my audio data?” to learn about their privacy controls and go directly into the settings screen to change their preferences, as well as delete voice assistant activity from a Google Account by saying things such as “Hey Google, delete everything I said to you this week”.

The Assistant has undergone scrutiny over its privacy capabilities in the past, with Google confirming in August 2019 that third-party workers were ‘systematically listening’ and leaking private Dutch conversations collected by the assistant.

According to Belgian public broadcaster VRT NWS, more than 1,000 files had been leaked. Following the incident, Google changed its policies around the storage of audio data from its users.

These changes from last year included Google making it default for the voice assistant to not retain audio recordings once a request is fulfilled, meaning that users have to actively choose to opt-in to let Google keep any voice recordings made by the device. It also added a feature that allows users to review and delete historical audio recordings.

Other additions to the Assistant announced by Google include the ability to schedule certain tasks. For example, users that have a Google Home-integrated washer or dryer can schedule a load of laundry with the Assistant. The company said this feature is set to be rolled out later this year.

Furthermore, the tech giant has added support for various new smart device categories such as air conditioning (AC units), coffee makers, vacuums and smart bath tubs, among other delights.

For the first time, the company also revealed user numbers for its assistant service, racking up 500 million people a month, with over one billion devices live that can use it.

Scott Huffman, vice president of engineering for the Assistant, said the product still has a long way to go, however, the statistic is “meaningful”.

“It means that, in this space of having a human conversation [with AI software], we’re onto something,” he said during an interview. “We’ve tapped into something that is getting good enough that people are choosing to use it over the other ways to do things.

Thus far at CES 2020, Bosch showcased a transparent sun visor for cars that intelligently blocks a thin band of light over the driver’s eyes. Meanwhile, Samsung unveiled a range of eye-catching consumer devices during its keynote, including a ball-shaped domestic robot reminiscent of ‘Star Wars'’ BB-8 droid.

Kicking off this year’s showcase, new 8K televisions were launched while Amazon announced that its Alexa voice assistant will be embedded into showerheads and bike helmets.

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